By Bob Emery
I have driven Espola Road in both directions, several times a day, nearly every day since 1969. I have driven Espola when there was 10 minutes between cars and when, sometimes, it takes 10 minutes waiting for a space to open between cars.
Traffic has increased tremendously over the past 44 years but, oddly enough, congestion has not. With the exception of about 45 minutes in the morning, when several thousand people and hundreds of vehicles all try to get to Poway High School at the same time, and about 15 minutes around 2:30 when school lets out, Espola Road appears to flow smoothly with little interruption and no major history of safety issues. This being the case, after spending nearly $2 million, why is the City of Poway continuing to study the project, especially since it will take another $10-plus million to construct the project?
In 2002-03, the city looked at widening Espola Road to four lanes between Twin Peaks Road and Titan Way (Poway High). It was determined by the City Council that the need really wasn’t there to pursue the multi-million dollar project at that time. The San Diego Association of Governments, (SANDAG), the source of most of the funding, apparently agreed because the Espola Road project came in behind several other projects in other jurisdictions with higher priorities.
Why are we pursuing an expensive project that is greater in scale than what is really needed? In a nutshell, the project calls for the widening of Espola to three lanes between Twin Peaks and Titan Way, install sidewalks and landscaping on both sides of the road, install a traffic signal at Durhullen/Golden Sunset, stripe bike lanes north and south, build sound walls on both sides of Espola north of Jerome Drive, and improve drainage south of Twin Peaks Road.
Now, take these facts into account: Espola Road is already three lanes between Twin Peaks and Titan Way with the exception of about 200 yards north of Del Poniente to Willow Ranch Road. There are already bike lanes in both directions. Are sidewalks and landscaping necessary in both directions? Why not create a footpath/sidewalk on the west side only? There is a sidewalk on only one side of Espola from the Poway High parking lot all the way north to Old Coach Road. Espola Road is one of the most scenic drives around.
Do we really want up to 11-foot sound walls replacing vegetation?
Where is the demonstrated need for such a massive undertaking when a lesser project could suffice at less cost? The EIR (Environmental Impact Report) only shows a modest 10 percent growth in traffic in this area by the horizon year of 2030, 17 years from now.
In summary, I submit that the Espola Road project needs to be scaled back considerably. Yes, drainage improvements are needed near Ezra Lane. Yes, pedestrian access in one direction could be improved. Perhaps a traffic signal at Durhullen/Golden Sunset might work but study is needed. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) states that the “environmentally superior alternative” should be chosen after an EIR. The EIR concludes that the project would “result in significant, unavoidable adverse impacts to land use, visual aesthetics and noise.” How can a project with such admitted dire consequences be considered “environmentally superior”?
Emery is a former Poway City Council member and a regular columnist.